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

"I— " I bleated.

"What's wrong?" my friend cried.


"Why are you afraid? Look. Look! Look there!"

And I was thrust and bumped through darkness to a greater mass of darkness, which was a cluster of shadows and then flesh. A crowd gathered around a shape that wept and lamented and yearned and it was the sound of a woman drowning in darkness.

As the woman moaned and cried and wept and grew silent to mourn again, I edged near.

And then someone thought to hold out a cigarette lighter, clicking it so that the small blue flame extended toward a shawled and unkempt creature, that fretting soul.

Inspired, another lighter drifted out of the night, hissing, and breathed light to hold steady. And then another and another, small flame after flame, like so many fireflies gathered in a circle until there was illumination circling steadily. And floating within to reveal that misery, that exaltation, that whispering, that sobbing, that voice of sudden pronouncements, were six, twelve, twenty more small blue fires, thrust and held to ignite the voice, to give it a shape, to shine the mystery. The more firefly lights, the higher the voice shrilled, asking for some unseen gift, recognition, asking for attention, demanding to live, asking to solve that form, face, and presence.

"Only from my voices, I would lose all heart!" she lamented.

What? I thought. What's that? Familiar! I almost guessed. Almost knew. What?

"The bells came down from heaven and their echoes linger in the fields. Through the quiet of the countryside, my voices!" she cried.

What? Almost! Familiar, I thought. Oh God, what?

Then a thunderous flood of storm wind flashed from the far sea, drenched with salt odor and a smash of thunder.

"You!" I cried. "You!"

And all the fires blew out to screams in utter darkness.

I called her name, but the only answer was a torrent of shouts in an avalanche of feet in full stampede.

In the roar and rush and ranting, some soft flesh struck my arm, my face, my knee, and then it was gone as I cried, "You!" and "You!" again.

There was an immense roundabout, a thousand millraces of darkness from which a single flame ignited near my mouth and one of the strange beasts cursed, seeing me, and shouted, "You, you scared her away! You!"

And hands were thrust to snatch at me until I fell back.

"No!" I turned and leaped, hoping to hell it was toward the sea and not the ghosts.

I stumbled and fell. My flashlight skittered. Christ, I thought, if I can't get it back-!

I scrambled on hands and knees. "Oh, please, please!"

And my fingers closed on the flashlight, which resurrected my flesh, got me upright, swaying with the black flood behind, and I broke into a drunken run. Don't fall, I thought, hold" the light like a rope to pull you, don't fall, don't look back! Are they close, are they near, are there others waiting? Great God!

At which moment the most glorious sound cracked the channel. There was an illumination ahead like the sunrise at heaven's door, a loud chant of car horn, an avalanche of thunder! A car.

People like me think in film-bit flashes, over in an instant, dumb in retrospect, but a lightning bolt of exhilaration. John Ford, I thought, Monument Valley! Indians! But now, the damn cavalry!

For ahead, in full plunge from the sea… My salvation, an old wreck. And half standing up front… Crumley. Yelling the worst curses he had ever yelled, cursing me with the foulest curses ever, but glad he had found me and then cursing this damn fool again. "Don't kill me!" I cried. The car braked near my feet. "Not till we get outta here!" Crumley shrieked. The darkness, lit by headlights, reared back. I was frozen with Crumley blaring the horn, waving arms, spitting teeth, going blind.

"You're lucky this damn buggy made it in! What gives?"

I stared back into the darkness.


"Then you won't be needing a lift!" Crumley gunned the gas.

I jumped in and landed so hard the jalopy shook.

Crumley grabbed my chin. "You okay?"

"Now, yes!"

"We gotta back out!"

"Back out!" I cried. The shadows loomed. "At fifty miles an hour?"


Crumley glared at the night.

"Satchel Paige said don't look back. Something may be gaining on you."

A dozen figures lurched into the light.

"Now!" I yelled.

We left…

At seventy miles an hour, backward.

Crumley yelled, "Henry called, said where the damn dumb stupid Martian was!"

"Henry," I gasped.

"Fritz called! Said you were twice as stupid as Henry said!"

"I am! Faster!"


I could hear the surf.


we motored out of the storm drain and I looked south one hundred yards and gasped. "Ohmigod, look!"

Crumley looked.

"There's Rattigan's place, two hundred feet away. How come we never noticed the storm drain came out so close?"

"We never used the storm drain before as Route 66."

"So if we could take it from Grauman's Chinese all the way here, Constance could have gone from here to Grauman's."

"Only if she was nuts. Hell. She was a Brazilian nut factory. Look."

There were a dozen narrow swerving marks in the sand. "Bicycle tracks. Bike it in one hour, tops."

"God, no, I don't see her on a bike."

I stood up in the jalopy to peer back at the tunnel.

"She's there. I doubt she's moved. She's still in there, going somewhere else, not here. Poor Constance."

"Poor?" Crumley erupted. "Tough as a rhino. Keep bellyaching about that five-and-dime floozy, I'll phone your wife to come crack your dog biscuits!"

"I haven't done anything wrong."

"No?" Crumley gunned the car the rest of the way out on the shore. "Three days of maniac running in and out of lousy L.A. palmistry parlors, upstairs Chinese balconies, climbing Mount Lowe! A parade of losers, all because of an A-l skirt who gets the Oscar for loss-leading. Wrong? Rip the roll from my pianola if I've played the wrong tune!"

"Crumley! In that storm drain, I think I saw her. Could I just say 'go to hell'?"


"Liar," I said. "You drink vodka, pee apple juice. I've got your number."

Crumley gunned the motor. "What're you getting at?"

"You're an altar boy."

"Christ, let me move this wreck out front of that damn fool sailor's delight!"

He drove fast, then slow, eyes half-shut, teeth gritted. "Well?"

I swallowed hard and said, "You're a boy soprano. You made your dad and mom proud at midnight mass. Hell, I've seen the ghost under your skin, in movies where you pretended your eyes weren't wet. A Catholic camel with a broken back. Great sinners, Crum, make great saints. No one's so bad they don't deserve a second chance."

"Rattigan's had ninety!"

"Would Jesus have kept count?"

"Damn, yes!"

"No, because some far-off late night, you'll call a priest to bless you and he'll carry you back to some Christmas night when your dad was proud and your ma cried and as you shut your eyes you'll be so damned glad to be home again you won't have to go pee to hide your tears. You still haven't given up hope. Know why?"

"Why, dammit?"

"Because I want it for you, Crum. Want you to be happy, want you to come home to something, anything, before it's too late. Let me tell you a story-"

"Why are you blabbing at a time like this? You just barely got away from a tribe of lunatics. What did. you see in that flood channel?"

"I don't know, I'm not sure."

"Ohmigod, wait!" Crumley rummaged in the glove compartment and with a cry of relief uncorked a small flask and drank. "If I have to sit here with the tide going out and your hot air rising-speak."

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