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Книга Let's All Kill Constance. Страница 14

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The most ancient of ancient men looked out at me from behind a maze of wrinkles, the kind you get when you search the icebox at six A.M. and take out last night's pre-mixed martinis.

"I keep the door locked. I thought you were just here, yelling outside."

"Not me."

"Someone was. Outside of that, nobody's been up here since Lowell Sherman died."

"That's two obituaries in ten minutes. Winter 1934. Cancer and pneumonia."

"Nobody knows that!"

"I roller-skated by the Coliseum one Saturday 1934 before a football game. Lowell Sherman came in whooping and barking. I got his autograph and said, 'Take care.' He died two days later."

"Lowell Sherman." The old, old man regarded me with a new luster in his eyes. "As long as you're alive, he is, too."

Clyde Rustler collapsed in the one chair and sized me up again. "Lowell Sherman. Why in hell did you make the long climb up here? People have died climbing. Uncle Sid climbed up once or twice, said to hell with it, built the bigger projection booth a thousand yards downslope in the real world, if there is a real one. Never went down to see. So?"

For he saw that I was casting my gaze around his primeval nest at those walls teeming with dozens of faces, forever young.

"Would you like a rundown on these mountain-lion street cats?" He leaned and pointed.

"Her name was Carlotta or Midge or Diana. She was a Spanish flirt, a Cal Coolidge 'It girl' with a skirt up to her navel, a Roman queen fresh out of DeMille's milk bath. Then she was a vamp named Illysha, a typist called Pearl, an English tennis player-Pamela. Sylvia? Ran a nudist flytrap in Cheyenne. Some called her 'Hard Hearted Hannah the Vamp of Savannah.' Dressed like Dolley Madison, sang 'Tea for Two,' 'Chicago,' popped out of a big clamshell like the pearl of paradise, Flo Ziegfeld's craze. Fired by her father at thirteen for conduct unbecoming a human who ripened fast: Willa-Kate. Worked in a chophouse chink joint: Lila Wong. Got more votes than the president, Coney Island Beauty Pageant, '29: not-so-plain Willa. Got off the night train in Glendale: Barbara Jo, next day, almost, head of Glory Films: Anastasia Alice Grimes-"

He stopped. I looked up. "Which brings us to Rattigan," I said.

Clyde Rustler froze in place.

"You said no one's been up here for years. But-she came up here today, right? Maybe to look at these pictures? Did she or didn't she?"

The old, old man stared at his dusty hands, then slowly rose to face a brass whistle tube in the wall, one of those submarine devices that you blew so it shrieked and you yelled orders.

"Leo? Wine! A two-dollar tip!"

A tiny voice squealed from the brass nozzle, "You don't drink!"

"I do now, Leo. And hot dogs!"

The brass nozzle squealed and died.

The old, old man grunted and stared at the wall. A long, terribly long five minutes passed. While we waited I opened my notepad and took down the names scrawled on the pictures. Then we heard the hot dogs and wine rattling up the dumbwaiter. Clyde Rustler stared as if he had forgotten that tiny elevator. He took forever opening the wine with a corkscrew, sent by Leo, from down below. There was only one glass.

"One," he apologized. "You first. I'm not afraid of catching anything."

"I got nothing for you to catch." I drank and handed the glass over. He drank and I could see the relaxation move his body.

"And now?" he said. "Let me show you some clips I glued together. Why? Last week a stranger called from down below. That voice on the phone. Was once Harry Cohn's live-in nurse, never said yes, but yes, yes, Harry, yes! Said she was looking for Robin Locksley. Robin Hood. Searching for Robin of Locksley. An actress took that name, a flash in the pan. She disappeared in Hearst's castle or his backside kitchen. But now this voice, years later, asks for Locksley. Spooked me. I ran through my cans and found the one film she made in 1929, when sound really took over. Watch."

He fitted the film into the projector and switched on the lamp. The image shot down to flood the big screen.

On the screen a circus butterfly spun, flirting her gossamer wings, dropping, to pull the bit from her smile, laugh, then run, pursued by white knights and black villains. "Recognize her?"

“Nope.”

"Try this." He spun the film. The screen filled with a smoldering bank of snow fires, a Russian noblewoman, smoking long languid cigarettes, wringing her handkerchief, someone had died or was going to die.

"Well?" said Clyde Rustler hopefully.

"Nope."

"Try again!"

The projector lit the darkness with 1923; a tomboy climbing a tree to shake down fruit, laughing, but you could see small crab apples under her shirtfront.

" Tomboy Sawyer. A girl! Who? Damn!"

The old man filled the screen with a dozen more images, starting with 1925, ending with 1952, open, shut, mysterious, obvious, light, dark, wild, composed, beautiful, plain, willful, innocent.

"You don't know any of those? My God, I've racked my brain. There must be some reason why I've saved these damned clips. Look at me, dammit! Know how old I am?"

"Around ninety, ninety-five?"

"Ten thousand years! Jesus. They found me floating in a basket on the Nile! I fell downhill with the Tablets. I doused the fire in the burning bush. Mark Antony said, 'Loose the dogs of war'; I loosed the lot. Did I know all these wonders? I wake nights hitting my head to make the jelly beans shake in place. Every time I've almost got the answer, I move my head and the damned beans fall. You sure you don't remember these clips or the faces on the wall? Good grief, we've got a mystery!"

"I was about to say the same. I came up here because someone else came. Maybe that voice that called from down below."

"What voice?"

"Constance Rattigan," I said.

I let the fog settle behind his eyes.

"What's she got to do with this?" he wondered.

"Maybe she knows. Last time I saw her she was standing in her own footprints."

"And you think she might know who all these faces belong to, what all the names mean? Hold on. Outside the door… I guess it was today. Can't be yesterday. Today she said, 'Hand 'em over!'"

"Hand what over?"

"Hell, what do you see in this damn empty place worth handing over?"

I looked at the pictures on the wall. Clyde Rustler saw my look.

"Why would anyone want those?" he said. "Not worth nothing. Even I don't know why in hell I nailed them there. Are they wives or some old girlfriends?"

"How many of each did you have?"

"I don't have the fingers to count."

"One thing for sure, Constance wanted you to hand 'em over. Was she jealous?"

"Constance? You got road rage in the streets, she had bed rage. Wanted to grab all my lovelies, whoever in hell they were, and stomp, tear, and burn them. Go on. Finish the wine. I got things to do."

"Like what?"

But he was rethreading the film clips in the projector, fascinated by a thousand and one nights past.

I moved along the wall and scribbled furiously, writing down the names under all of the pictures, and then said:

"If Constance comes back, will you let me know?"

"For the pictures? I'll throw her downstairs."

"Someone else said that. Only it was to hell instead of the second balcony. Why would you throw her?"

"There's gotta be a reason, right? Don't recollect! And why did you say you climbed up here? And what was it you called me?"

"Clyde Rustler."

"Oh, yeah. Him. It just came to me. Did you know I am Constance's father?"

"What!?"

"Constance's father. I thought I told you before. Now you can leave. Good night."

I went out and shut the door on whoever that was and the pictures on the wall, whoever they were.

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