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Книга Let's All Kill Constance. Содержание - CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR

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Crumley sat up straight.

"You got a list of those names on the cellar mirrors?"

I shook my head. "It was dark down there."

"Easy as pie." Henry tapped his head. "Hazel. Annabel. Grace. Pollyanna. Helen. Marilee. Betty Lou. Detect the similarities?"

As the names rolled from Henry's mouth, I ticked them off my penciled list. A perfect match.

At which point there was a lightning strike. The lights failed. We could hear the surf roar in to salt Rattigan's beach as pale moonlight silvered the shore. Thunder clamored. It gave me time to think and say, "Rattigan's got a complete run of Academy annuals with all the pictures, ages, roles.

Her competition is in every one. It ties in with all those upstairs pictures, downstairs mirrors, right?"

Thunder echoed, the lights blinked back on.

We went inside and got out the Academy books.

"Look for the mirror names," Henry advised.

"I know, I know," Crumley growled.

In half an hour we had thirty years of Academy annuals paper-clipped.

"Ethel, Carlotta, Suzanne, Clara, Helen," I read.

"Constance can't hate them all."

"Chances are," said Henry. "What else she got in her bookshelves?"

An hour later we found some actors' reference albums, crammed with pictures, going way back. One with a legend up front giving the name J. Wallington Bradford. I read, "A.k.a. Tallullah Two, a.k.a. Swanson, Gloria in Excelsius, a.k.a. Funny Face."

A quiet bell sounded in the back of my head.

I opened another album and read: "Alberto Quickly. Fast flimflammery. Plays all parts Great Expectations. Acts A Christinas Carol, Christmas Carol's Scrooge, Marley, Three Christmases, Fezziwig. Saint Joan, unburned. Alberto Quickly. Quick Change. Born: 1895. At liberty." The quiet bell sounded again.

"Hold on," I said. I felt myself murmuring. "Pictures, mirrors, and now here's a guy, Bradford, who is all women. And then here's another guy, Quickly, who is all men, every man." The bell faded. "Did Constance know them?"

Like a sleepwalker I moved to pick up Constance's Book of the Dead.

There it was.

Bradford on one page, near the beginning of the book.

Quickly toward the end.

"But no red circles around the names. So? Are they alive or dead?"

"Why not go see," said Henry.

Lightning struck. The lights failed again.

In the dark, Henry said, "Don't tell me, let me guess."


crumley dropped us by the old apartment house and ran.

"Now," said Henry, "what are we doing here?"

Inside, I glanced up the three-story stairwell. "Searching for Marlene Dietrich alive and well."

Before I even knocked on the door, I caught the perfume through the paneling. I sneezed and knocked.

"Dear God," a voice said. "I haven't a thing to wear."

The door opened and a billowing butterfly kimono stood there with a Victorian relic inside, squirming to make it fit. It stopped squirming and tape-measured my shoes, my knee bones, my shoulders, and finally eye to eye.

"J. Wallington Bradford?" I cleared my throat. "Mr. Bradford?"

"Who's asking?" the creature in the doorway wondered. "Jesus. Come in. Come in. And who's this other thing?"

"I'm the boy's Seeing Eye." Henry probed the air. "That a chair? Think I'll sit. Sure smells strong in here. Nothing personal."

The kimono let loose a blizzard of confetti in its lungs and waved us in with a grand sweep of its sleeve. "I hope it isn't business that brings you here. Sit, while Mama pours gin. Big or small?"

Before I could speak he had filled a big glass with clear Bombay blue crystal liquor. I sipped.

"That's a good boy," said Bradford. "You staying five minutes or the night? My God, he's blushing. Is this about Rattigan?"

"Rattigan!" I cried. "How'd you know?"

"She was here and gone. Every few years Rattigan vanishes. It's how she divorces a new husband, an old lover, God, or her astrologer. ?Quien sabe?"

I nodded, stunned.

"She came years ago, asking how I did it. All those people, she said. Constance, I said, how many cat lives have you had? A thousand? Don't ask which flue I slid up, which bed I ran under!"

"But— "

"No buts. Mother Earth knows all. Constance invented Freud, tossed in Jung and Darwin. Did you know she bedded all six studio heads? It was a bet she took at the Brown Derby from Harry Cohn. Til harvest Jack Warner and his brothers till their ears fly off,' she said.

"All in the same year? Cohn yelled.

"'Year, hell,' said Constance. 'In one week, with Sunday off!'

" 'I bet a hundred you can't!' said Cohn.

" 'Make it a thousand and you're on,' said Constance.

"Harry Cohn glared. 'What will you put up as collateral?'

" 'Me,' said Rattigan.

" 'Shake!' cried Cohn.

"She shook all over. 'Hold these!' She flung her pants in Cohn's lap and fled."

Breathless, J. W. Bradford raved on: "Did you know that once I was Judy Garland. Then Joan Crawford, then Bette Davis. I was Bankhead in Lifeboat. A real nightwalker, late sleeper, bed buster. You need help finding Rattigan? I can list her discards. Some fell in my lap. You want to say something?"

"Is there a real you in there, somewhere?" I said.

"God, I hope not. How terrible to find me in bed with just me! Rattigan. You tried her beach house? Artie Shaw stayed there after Caruso. She got him when she was thirteen. Drove him up the La Scala wall. When she topped off Lawrence Tibbett, he sang soprano. They had a squad car of paramedics by her joint, 1936, when she mouth-to-mouth breathed Thalberg into Forest Lawn. You okay?"

"I just got hit by a ten-ton safe."

"Take more gin. Tallulah says so."

"You'll help us find Constance?"

"No one else can. I loaned her my whole wardrobe a million years back. Gave her my makeup-box rejects, taught her perfumes, how to surprise her eyebrows, lift her ears, shorten her upper lip, widen her smile, flatten or bulge her bosom, walk taller than tall, or fall short. I was a mirror she posed in front of, watching me stare, blink, pretend remorse, alert, despair, delight, sing in a gilded cage, power-dive into pajamas, breaststroke out. She trotted in a high school pony, swarmed out a nest of ballerinas. By the time she left, she was someone else. That was ten thousand vaudevilles ago. And all so she could compete with other actresses for other roles in films, or maybe steal their men.

"Okay, doll," J. W. Bradford said as he scribbled on a pad. "Here's more names of those who loved Constance. Nine producers, ten directors, forty-five at-liberty actors, and a partridge in a pear tree."

"Did she never hold still?"

"Ever see those seals in Rattigan's surf? Slick as oil, quicker than quicksilver, hit the bed like lightning. Number one in the L.A. Marathon long before there was one. Could have been board chairman at three studios, but wound up as Vampira, Madame Defarge, and Dolley Madison. There!"

"Thanks." I scanned a list that would have filled the Bastille twice over.

"Now if you'll forgive, Mata Hari must change.1"

Zip! He flourished his kimono.

Zip! I grabbed Henry's arm and we flew down the stairs and out onto the street.

"Hey!" someone cried. "Wait!"

I turned and looked up. Jean Harlow-Dietrich-Colbert leaned over the top rail, smiling wildly, waiting for Von Stroheim to shoot her close-up.

"There's someone else like me, even crazier. Quickly!"

"Alberto Quickly!" I called. "He's alive?"

"He does one nightclub a week, then hospital rehabs. When they sew him up he repeats his farewell tour. Damn fool, in his nineties, said he found Constance (a lie!) on Route 66 when he was, my God, forty, fifty. Driving across country, he picked up this tomboy with suspicious breasts. Made her a star while his act faded. Runs a theatre intime in his parlor. Charges folks on Friday nights to see Caesar stabbed, Antony on his sword, Cleopatra bitten." A piece of paper sailed down. "There! And something else!"

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