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

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I spoke: "When I was twelve a carnival magician, Mr. Electrico, came to my hometown. He touched me with his flaming sword and yelled, 'Live forever!' Why did he tell me that, Crumley? Was there something in my face, the way I acted, stood, sat, talked, what? All I know is somehow, burning me with his great eyes, he gave me my future. Leaving the carnival, I stood by the carousel, heard the calliope playing 'Beautiful Ohio,' and I wept. I knew something incredible had happened, something wonderful and nameless. Within three weeks, twelve years old, I started to write. I have written every day since. How come, Crumley, how come?"

"Here," said Crumley. "Finish this."

I drank the rest of the vodka.

"How come?" I said quietly again.

Now it was Crumley's turn: "Because he saw you were a romantic sap, a Dumpster for magic, a cloud-walker who found shadows on ceilings and said they were real. Christ, I don't know. You always look like you've just showered even if you rolled in dog doo. I can't stand all your innocence. Maybe that's what Electrico saw. Where's that vodka? Oh yeah, gone. You done?"

"No," I said. "Since Mr. Electrico pointed me in the right direction, shouldn't I pay back? Do I keep Mr. Electrico to myself, or let him help me save her?"

"Psychic crap!"

"Hunches. I don't know any other way to live. When I got married friends warned Maggie I wasn't going anywhere. I said, 'I'm going to the Moon and Mars, want to come along?' And she said yes. So far, it hasn't been so bad, has it? And on your way to a 'bless me, Father,' and a happy death, can't you find it in your heart to bring Rattigan?"

Crumley stared straight ahead.

"You mean all that?"

He reached over and touched under my eyes and brought his fingers back to his tongue.

"The real stuff," he murmured. "Salt. Your wife said you cry at phone books," he said quietly.

"Phone books full of people lost in graveyards, maybe. If I quit now, I'd never forgive myself. Or you, if you made me stop."

After a long moment Crumley shifted out of the car. "Wait," he said, not looking at me. "I got to go pee."


he came back after a long while.

"You sure know how to hurt a guy," he said as he climbed back into the jalopy.

"Just stir, don't shake."

Crumley cocked his head at me. "You're a queer egg."

"You're another."

We drove slowly along the shore toward Rattigan's. I was silent.

"You got another hairball?" Crumley said.

"Why is it," I said, "someone like Constance is a lightning bolt, performing seal, high-wire frolicker, wild laughing human, and at the same time she's the devil incarnate, an evil cheater at life's loaded deck?"

"Go ask Alexander the Great," said Crumley. "Look at Attila the Hun, who loved dogs; Hitler, too. Bone up on Stalin, Lenin, Mussolini, Mao, hell's Anvil Chorus. Rommel, good family man. How do you cradle cats and cut throats, bake cookies and people? How come we love Richard the Third, who dumped kids in wine casks? How come TV is all Al Capone reruns? God won't say."

"I don't ask. He turned us loose. It's up to us, once He took off the leash. Who wrote, 'Malt does more than Milton can, to justify God's way towards Man?' I rewrote it and added, And Freud spoils kids and spares the rod, to justify Man's ways toward God.'"

Crumley snorted. "Freud was a nut loose in a fruit patch. I always believed smart-ass punks need their teeth punched."

"My dad never broke my teeth."

"That's because you're a half-stale Christmas fruitcake, the kind no one eats."

"But Constance is beautiful?

"You mistake energy for beauty. Overseas, French girls knocked me flat. They blink, wave, dance, stand on their heads to prove they're alive. Hell, Constance is all battery acid and short circuit. If she ever slows down she'll get-"

"Ugly? No!"

"Gimme those!" He seized the glasses off my nose and peered through them.

"Rose— colored! How do things look without them?"

"Nothing's there."

"Great! There's not much worth seeing!"

"There's Paris in the spring. Paris in the rain. Paris on New Year's Eve."

"You been there?"

"I saw the movies. Paris. Gimme."

"I'll just keep these until you take waltz lessons from blind Henry." Crumley shoved my glasses in his pocket.

As we pulled our jalopy up on the shore in front of the white chateau, we saw two dark shapes by her oceanside pool, under the umbrella, to keep off the moonlight.

Crumley and I trudged up the dune and peered in at Blind Henry and angry Fritz Wong. There were martinis laid out on a tray.

"I knew," Henry said, "after that storm drain you'd seek refreshment. Grab. Drink."

We grabbed and drank.

Fritz soaked his monocle in vodka, thrust it in his stare, and said, "That's better!" And then he finished the drink.


I WENT 'round, placing camp chairs by the pool.

Crumley watched with a dour eye and said, "Let me guess. This is the finale of an Agatha Christie murder mystery, and Poirot's got all the usual suspects stashed poolside."

"Bull s— eye."


I proceeded.

"This chair here is for the Mount Lowe collector of old newspapers."

"Who will testify in absentia?"

"In absentia. This next chair is for Queen Califia, long gone, with her palmistry and head bumps."

I kept moving. "Third chair: Father Rattigan. Fourth chair: Grauman's Chinese mile-high projectionist. Fifth chair: J. W. Bradford, a.k.a. Tallulah, Garbo, Swanson, Colbert. Sixth: Professor Quickly, a.k.a. Scrooge, Nicholas Nickleby, Richard the Third. Seventh chair: me. Eighth chair: Constance."

"Hold on."

Crumley got up and pinned his badge on my shirt.

"We going to sit here," said Fritz, "and listen to a fourth-rate Nancy Drew-"

"Stash your monocle," said Crumley.

Fritz stashed his monocle.

"Now," said Crumley, "junior?"

Junior moved behind the chairs.

"For starters, I'm Rattigan running in the rain with two Books of the Dead. Some already dead, some about to die."

I laid the two books on the glass-top table.

"We all know now that Quickly, in a spurt of nostalgic madness, sent the one book, with all the dead people, to frighten Constance. She came running from her past, her memories of a fast, furious, and destructive life."

"You can say that again," said Crumley.

I waited.

"Sorry," said Crumley.

I picked up the second book, Constance's more personal, recent phone lists.

"But what if Constance, hit by the old Book of the Dead, got wired back into her griefs, her losses in that past, and decided, in order to make do with it, she had to destroy it, person by person, one by one. What if she red-lined the names and forgot she had done it?"

"What if?" Crumley sighed.

"Let the idiot express his delight." Fritz Wong tucked his monocle back in his eye and leaned forward. "So the Ratti-gan goes to kill, maim, or at least threaten her own past, ja?" he said with heavy Germanic concern.

"Is that the way the next scene plays?" I asked.

"Action," said Fritz, amused.

I swayed behind the first empty chair.

"Here we are at the dead end of the old trolley-tram line on Mount Lowe."

Fritz and Crumley nodded, seeing the mummy there, wrapped in headlines.

"Wait." Blind Henry squinted. "Okay, I'm there."

"Her first husband is there, her first big mistake. So she goes up to swipe the newspapers with all her old selves filed away. She grabs the papers, like I did, and gives a final yell. Whether she pushed the landslide of newsprint, or gave one last shriek, who knows? Regardless, the Mount Lowe trolley master drowned in a bad-news avalanche. Okay?"

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