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Книга Let's All Kill Constance. Страница 29

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The rain fell outside the crypt. There was a long moment of silence and I said, "You're here, Constance, and I'm here, listening."

After a while she said, "Are they all gone, is the shore clear now, can I swim back in and not be afraid?"

I said, "Yes, Constance, they're really buried. You did the job. Someone had to forgive you, that someone had to be Constance. Come out."

"Why?" said the voice from the top shelf of the tomb.

"Because," I said, "this is all crazy, but you're needed. So, please, rest for a moment, and then put your hand out and let me help you down. Do you hear me, Constance?"

The sky went dark. The fires died. The rain fell, erasing the stones and slabs and the names, the names, the terrible names cut to last but dissolving in grass.

"Are they?" came the frantic whisper.

And I said, my eyes filled with cold rain, "Yes."


"Yes," I said. "The yard's empty. The picture's dropped. The mirrors are clean. Now there's only you and me."

The rain washed the unseen stones sinking deep in the flooded grass.

"Come out," I said quietly.

Rain fell. Water slid on the road. The monuments, stones, slabs, and names were lost.

"Constance, one final thing."

"What?" she whispered.

After a long pause I said, "Fritz Wong is waiting. The screenplay is finished. The sets are built and ready."

I shut my eyes and agonized to remember.

Then, at last, I remembered: " 'Only for my voices, I would lose all heart.' "

I hesitated, then continued: " 'It is in the bells I hear my voices. The bells come down from heaven and the echoes linger. In the quiet of the countryside, my voices are there. Without them I would lose heart.' "


A shadow moved. A white shape motioned.

The tips of her fingers came out into the shadows and then her hand and then the slender arm.

Then, after a long silence, a deep breath, an exhalation, Constance said: "I'm coming down."


THE storm was gone. It was as if it had never been. The sky was clean, not a cloud anywhere, and a fresh breeze was blowing as if to clean a slate, or a mirror, or a mind.

I stood on the beach in front of Rattigan's Arabian fort with Crumley and Henry, mostly silent, and Fritz Wong surveying the scene for long shots and close-ups.

Inside the house two men in white coveralls moved like shadows and I was put in mind of altar attendants somehow, the mind of a crazed writer freely associating, and I wished that somehow, wild as it seemed, Father Rattigan could be there, could be one of those white figures cleaning the house with a censer of incense and a rain of holy water, to re-sanctify a place that had probably never been anywhere near sanctified. Good God, I thought, bring a priest to cleanse a den of iniquity! The housepainters, inside, scraping the walls clean in order to apply fresh paint, worked steadily, not knowing whose house it was and what had lived there. Outside on a table by the pool were some beers for Crumley, Fritz, Henry, and myself, and vodka, if our mood changed.

The smell of fresh paint was invigorating; it promised a lunatic redemption, and an echo of forgiveness. New paint, new life? Please, God.

"How far out does she go?" Crumley stared at the breakers a hundred yards off shore.

"Don't ask me," said Henry.

"Out with the seals," I said, "or sometimes in close. She has a lot of friends out there. Hear?"

The seals were barking, louder or softer I couldn't say, I only heard. It was a glad sound to go with the fresh paint in an old house made new.

"Tell the painters when they paint her mailbox," said Fritz, "to leave room for just one name, ja?"

"Right," said Henry. He cocked his head to one side, and then frowned. "She's been swimming a long time. What if she don't come in?"

"That wouldn't be so bad," I said. "She loves the water offshore."

"Swells after a storm, fine for surfing. Hey! That was loud!"

The kind of loud that made for a theatrical entrance.

With superb timing, a cab roared up in the alley behind Rattigan's.

"God!" I said. "I know who that is!"

A door slammed. A woman came slogging across the sand that ran between the house and seaside pool, her hands clenched in tight balls. She stood before me like a blast furnace and raised her fists.

"What have you got to say for yourself?" Maggie cried.

"Sorry?" I bleated.


She hauled off and struck me a terrible blow on the nose.

"Hit him again," Crumley suggested.

"Once more for luck," offered Fritz.

"What's going on?" said Henry.


"I know."

"Son of a bitch!"

"Yes," I said.

She struck a second time.

The blood gushed. It flooded my chin and drenched my upraised hands. Maggie pulled back.

"Oh, God," she cried, "what have I done!"

"Hit a son of a bitch and bastard," Fritz answered.

"Right," said Crumley.

"You keep out of this!" Maggie yelled. "Someone get a Band-Aid."

I looked at the bright flow on my hands. "Band-Aids won't work."

"Shut up, you stupid womanizer!"

"Only one" I bleated.

"Hold still!" she cried, and raised her fist again.

I held still and she collapsed.

"No, no, enough, enough," she wept. "Oh God, this is terrible."

"Go ahead, I deserve it," I said.

"Do you, do you?"

"Yeah," I said.

Maggie glared at the far surf. "Where is she? Out there?"


"I hope she never comes in!"

"Me, too."

"What in hell does that mean?"

"I don't know," I said as quietly as possible. "Maybe she belongs out there. Maybe she has friends, dumb friends, and maybe she should stay with them and never come in again."

"If she does, I'll kill her."

"Then she's better off staying way out."

"Are you defending her, damn you?"

"No, just saying she should never have come in. She was always happier on days like this, after a storm, when the waves are right and the clouds are gone. I saw her a few times like that. She didn't drink all day, just kept going out, and there was always the promise she wouldn't come back."

"What got into you? What got into her?"

"Nobody knows. It happens all the time. No alibis. It's just things happen, and next thing you know it's all gone to hell."

"Keep talking, maybe you'll make sense."

"No, the more talk the less sense. She was lost for a long time. Now, maybe, she's found. A lot of bull, a lot of malarkey, I don't know. I promised her if she swam out with all those names, she might swim back in as just one. Promises, promises. We'll know when she comes ashore."

"Shut up. You know I love you, don't you, you dumb bastard?"

"I know."

"In spite of all this, you rat, I still love you, God help me. Is this what all women put up with?"

"Most," I said. "Most. No explanations. No reason. Awful truths. The dog wanders. The dog comes home. The dog smiles. You hit him. He forgives you for forgiving him. And it's back home to the kennel or a lonely life. I don't want a lonely life. Do you?"

"Jesus help me, no I don't. Wipe your nose."

I wiped it. More blood.

"I'm sorry," she cried.

"Don't be. That's the last thing for you to be. Don't."

"Hold it!" said Henry. "Listen."

"What?" said everyone at once.

"Feel it?" said Henry.

"What, what, dammit?"

"The big surf, the biggest wave, coming in, now," murmured Henry. "And bringing something with it."

Way out, the seals barked.

Way out, a huge wave curled.

Crumley, Fritz, Henry, Maggie, and I held our breath.

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