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Книга Let's All Kill Constance. Содержание - CHAPTER FOURTEEN

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"Did she say-this sounds crazy-where she was going?" "Not crazy at all," said Califia. "I would think that since she went first to that old fool on Mount Lowe who she dropped after one bad night, then me who put her up to it, well, next, why not the poor sap who performed the ceremony? She wants to get us all together, to push us off a cliff!"

"She wouldn't do that."

"How would you know? How many women you had in your life?"

At last I said, sheepishly, "One."

Queen Califia mopped her face with a handkerchief big enough to cover half her bosom, regained her composure, and slowly advanced on me, propelling herself on glider wheels with dainty pushes of her incredibly small shoes. I could not take my eyes off how tiny her feet were compared with the vast territory above, and the great lunar face that loomed on that expanse. I saw the ghost of Constance drowned beneath that flesh. Queen Califia shut her eyes.

"She's using you. You love her?"


"Keep your clothes on and your motor running. She ask you to get her with child?"

"Not in so many words."

"No words, just bastard stillborns. She whelped monsters down the whole L.A. basin, lousy Hollywood Boulevard, dead-end Main. Burn her bed, scatter the ashes, call a priest."

"Which priest, where?"

"I'll put you in touch. Now…" She paused, refusing to spit out the name. "Our friend. She's always missing. One of her dodges, to make men panic. One hour with her does it. They riot in the streets. You know the game Uncle Wig-gily? Well, Uncle Wiggily says jump back ten hops, head for the Hen House, quit!"

"But she needs me!"

"No. She dines on spoilage. Blessed are the wicked who relish wickedness. Your bones will knead her bread. If she were here, I'd run her down with my chair. God, she made Rome's ruins. Hell," she added. "Let me see your palm again." Her massive chair creaked. Her wall of flesh threatened.

"You going to take back what you saw in my hand?"

"No. I just say what I see in an open palm. You will have another life beyond this! Tear up that newspaper. Burn the wedding invitation. Leave town. Tell her to die. But tell her cross-country by phone. Now, out!"

"Where do I go from here?"

"God forgive me." She shut her eyes and whispered, "Check that wedding invitation."

I raised the invite and stared.

"Seamus Brian Joseph Rattigan, St. Vibiana's Cathedral, celebrant."

"Go tell 'im his sister is in two kinds of hell, and to send holy water. Scram! I got lots to do."

"Like what?"

"Throw up," she said.

I clutched Father Seamus Brian Joseph Rattigan in my sweaty palm, backed off, and bumped into Crumley.

"Who are you?. " said Califia, finally noticing my shadow.

"I thought you knew," Crumley said.

We went out and shut the door.

The whole house shifted with her weight.

"Warn her," Califia cried. "Tell her, don't come back."

I looked at Crumley. "She didn't tell your future!"

"Thank the Lord," said Crumley, "for small blessings."


BACK down the steep cement steps we went, and under the pale moonlight by the car, Crumley peered into my face. "What's that mad-dog look?"

"I've just joined a church!"

"Get in, for Christ's sake!"

I got in, running a fever.

"Where to?"

"St. Vibiana's Cathedral."

"Holy mackerel!"

He banged the starter.

"No." I exhaled. "I couldn't stand another face-on. Home, James, a shower, three beers, and to bed. We'll catch Constance at dawn."

We passed Callahan and Ortega, nice and slow. Crumley looked almost happy.

Before the shower, the beers, and the snooze, I pasted seven or eight newsprint front pages on the wall over my bed, where I might wake in the night in hopes of solutions.

All the names, all the pictures, all the headlines big and small saved for mysterious or not mysterious reasons.

Behind me," Crumley snorted. "Horse apples! You going to commune with news that was dead as soon as it was printed?"

"By dawn, sure, they just might drop off the wall, slide under my eyelids, and get stuck in the creative adhesive in my brain."

"Creative adhesive! Japanese bushido! American bull! Once those things are off the wall, like you, do they propagate?"

"Why not? If you don't put in, you never get out."

"Wait while I kill this." Crumley drank. "Lie down with porcupines, get up with pandas?" He nodded at all those pictures, names, and lives. "Constance in there somewhere?"


"Hit the shower. I'll stand guard on the obituaries. If they move, I'll yell. How does a margarita strike you as nightcap.”

"I thought you'd never ask," I said.


st. Vibiana's Cathedral awaited us. Downtown L.A. Skid Row. At noon, heading east, we stayed off the main boulevards.

"Ever seen W. C. Fields in If I Had a Million? Bought some old tin lizzies and rammed road hogs. Super," said Crumley. "That's why I hate highways. I want to roadkill. You listening?"

"Rattigan," I said. "I thought I knew her." "Hell." Crumley laughed gently. "You don't know anyone. You'll never write the great American novel, because you don't know shoats from shinola. You overestimate character where there is none, so you upchuck fairy princes, virgin milkmaids. Most writers can't even do that, so you go with your taffy pulls, thirteen to the dozen. Let those realists scoop dog doo."

I remained silent.

"Know what your problem is?" Crumley barked, and then softened his voice. "You love people not worth loving."

"Like you, Crum?"

He glanced over cautiously.

"Oh, I'm okay," he admitted. "I've more holes than a sieve, but I haven't fallen through. Hold on!" Crumley hit the brakes. "The pope's home away from home!"

I looked out at St. Vibiana's Cathedral in the midst of the slow-motion desolation of long-dead Skid Row.

"Jesus," I said, "would have built here. You coming in?"

"Hellfires, no! I was kicked outta confession, age twelve, when I skinned my knees on wild women."

"Will you ever take Communion again?"

"When I die. Hop out, buster. From Queen Califia to the Queen of Angels."

I climbed out.

"Say a Hail Mary for me," Crumley said.


INSIDE the cathedral it was empty, just after noon, and just one penitent was waiting by the confessional when a priest arrived and beckoned her in.

His face confirmed I was in the right place.

When the woman left, I ducked in the other side of the confessional, tongue-tied.

A shadow moved in the lattice window.

"Well, my son?"

"Forgive me, Father," I blurted out. "Califia."

The other confessional door banged wide with a curse. I opened my door. The priest reared as if I had shot him.

It was Rattigan Deja Vu. Not svelte in ninety-five pounds of suntanned seal-brown flesh, but marrowed in a wire-coat-hanger skeleton-thin Florentine Renaissance priest. Constance's bones hid there, but the flesh skinned over the bones was skull pale, the priest's lips were ravenous for salvation, not bed and sinful breakfasts. Here was Savonarola begging God to forgive his wild perorations, and God silent, with Constance's ghost burning from his eyes, and peering from his skull.

Father Rattigan, riven, found me harmless save for that word, jerked his head toward the vestry, led me in, and shut the door.

"You her friend?"

"No, sir."

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